Creativity can be hard to find — artists from every medium are susceptible to the agony that is a creative block. However, sometimes all an artist needs is a group of people, a time limit and lots of Red Bull. The Global Game Jam is an event that provides all three.
Now in its fifth year, the Global Game Jam is an international event that brings game designers together for two straight days of nonstop collaboration. Taking place in cities around the world, participants are treated to a keynote video featuring leading game developers, and a secret theme is revealed. After this, teams of four or five are given 48 hours to create a game based around this theme, without any competitive pressure. This will be the fourth year the GGJ will have a location in Calgary, and the event continues to spread around the globe.
“Last year was a world record-breaking year,” says Adam Goetz, one of the organizers for the Calgary branch of the GGJ. “They had 242 locations, 47 countries and they made a little over 2,200 games. In Calgary we had about 10 teams that produced 10 different games.”
The event is similar in structure to a hackathon, which is a type of intensive collaborative project undertaken by computer programmers. Like a hackathon, participants of the GGJ have to put in a lot of work to finish their project on time, which often means sleep falls to the wayside.
“There was very little sleep,” says Goetz, who volunteered at last year’s event. “You saw people sleeping in their meeting rooms or next to their computers. They only really slept two or three hours on [the first night], because they were running on adrenaline, but by the end of it everyone was pretty tired.”
However, this is all a part of the experience — an experience Goetz found both remarkable and unique.
“I got to be a participant last year when I was volunteering, to get the experience on the other side of the fence, and it was absolutely awesome,” says Goetz. “It was very different from any event I’ve ever been to.”
This year, the Calgary event will take place from Jan. 25–27, and will be undergoing a change in location to the University of Calgary.
“This year will have the same spirit as the last couple of years, but the big change this year is that, instead of hosting at Mount Royal or SAIT, we are hosting at the Taylor Family Digital Library,” says Goetz.
Participants will have access to the first two floors of the TFDL for the entirety of the event, and will be able to take advantage of everything the library has to offer, which includes recording equipment and game design software.
“When I started working here, and I saw the technology available, one of the very first things I thought was that this building would be awesome for a game jam,” says Jedd Baker, the IT generalist at the TFDL who originally suggested the change of location.
Teams will each have their own workroom, which come equipped with a collaborative software program called TeamSpot. This software is one of the main reasons Baker suggested the TFDL for the new location of the GGJ, since it allows groups to quickly and easily modify collaborative projects.
“You can immediately throw up an idea and someone can modify it,” says Baker. “If you say ‘Here’s what I think the zombies should look like,’ and your programmer thinks that it would look a lot better with a mustache, he can just squiggle one in. It really streamlines the whole process.”
Although this is the first year the TFDL will host the GGJ, the library is anything but a stranger to video games. It has already drawn significant attention for its focus on the academic use of video games, which make up a large portion of the library’s Digital Media Commons.
“Game-based learning and video game research are becoming much more ubiquitous in higher education,” says Dylan Tetrault, the Digital Media Commons manager at the TFDL. “We’ve created an area where we have a very large collection of games, from PC games to console games, and from contemporary games to retrospective ones. It covers almost the entire history of the medium, from old text-based adventures to modern first-person shooters and everything in between.”
The game collection at the TFDL has been used for studying a variety of different academic fields, such as gender studies, fine arts, humanities and kinesiology.
With only 50 spaces available, and with almost half of the tickets already sold, there isn’t much time left to join Global Game Jam 2013. This event offers a rare opportunity to work with other people to make something meaningful — even if you have no prior experience in game design.
“It is for people of all walks of life, and anyone can enter,” explains Tetrault. “You can be an artist, a game designer, a programmer or a writer — no matter what you do there will be a space for you at the Global Game Jam. It’s non-competitive, and is really just a celebration of game design.”
“You don’t have to be super skilled,” says Baker. “It is a way to help bring out your creativity, and it might just introduce you to something you really love.”